Sunday, August 16, 2009

We need good teachers for English


THE long-standing intense debate on the medium of instruction for teaching Science and Mathematics has now reached its finality.

Those among us who pleaded passionately for the two subjects to be taught in English should welcome the government’s pragmatic policy to strengthen the teaching of English.

Let us contribute ideas as to how we can help to strengthen the teaching of this global language among our teachers and students.

English is not the native language for many of us. But we can try to make the transition from non-native language use to near-native language use.

This will undoubtedly strengthen English language education here and elsewhere where it is not used as a country’s major language, but as a second or a foreign language with a limited role for it.

To raise the quality of English language teaching, a paradigm shift is essential. The quality of teachers recruited and assigned to teach the language is central to the whole issue.

An increase in hours allocated is secondary. An increased amount of language instruction may not always translate into intake for the learners without meaningful learning and efficient teaching.

Quality teachers play a key role in the government’s desire to strengthen English language education in the country. Veteran English language educators may identify, among others, the following.

English language teachers ought to be committed to their chosen vocation.

Commitment necessitates that we continue to excel in our profession. Gaining a professional teaching qualification is not the end, but the beginning of a journey that requires ongoing learning and a passion for teaching.

English language teachers and students today are fortunate to have access to the internet and cable television which were non-existent not too long ago.

What made students excel in English before the advent of these two mediums?

They relied mostly on their teachers, books in the library and the few newspapers and magazines available. They were avid readers, reading, including popular adventure books and comics.

For successful language learning, motivation has to be mutual. On the part of the teachers, the motivation to have a fluent command, to be able to speak the language in a way which is intelligible to many and use the language in a grammatically appropriate manner must always be there.

The task of teaching English should not be left to people who have inadequate training or are not cut out to teach the language.

That would be a great disservice to the pupils whom we are entrusted to teach to the best of our ability.

The training should be ongoing in the form of in-service training, attending professional gatherings and even actively participating in academic seminars and the like.

Teachers need to evaluate the effectiveness of their performance through peer feedback for further professional growth. They need to create a conducive environment in the classroom for meaningful language learning to take place.

English language teachers must habitually expose themselves to very good models of the language by listening to the major news networks whose anchors have international intelligibility.

By attentively listening to such programmes, teachers could become aware of contemporary use of the language.

Teachers may engage in action research, which is small scale research involving their own students and the institution they are employed in.

One may study the common grammatical errors committed by them, their spelling difficulties, limited and incorrect vocabulary use and pronunciation problems.

By identifying such weaknesses, teachers can help to minimize the students’ learning difficulties and prepare them for higher academic study where writing assignments is a common feature.

Teachers can be linguistically active by writing to newspapers, posting their comments online, expressing their feelings and sharing their opinions.

English language teachers need to show interest in the literature of the language as well, besides the methodology of teaching.

By reading the contemporary and previous literary works, teachers may be able to appreciate and enjoy the language they are teaching.

The modern English teacher has to be one who is comfortable with the language in its various contexts, occupational as well as social. He or she must develop the confidence to be able to carry on a conversation with those who speak the language habitually.

Employing qualified language teachers from countries whose majority population uses English is a welcome move.

This will give their local colleagues increased opportunities to be exposed to the attributes of natural native speech and increase their self-esteem to use the language.

It is through the factors outlined above, among others, that we can positively hope to strengthen English language education in Malaysia and other countries with a similar experience.

Some may feel that it is too much to ask of our teachers. But then for our own self-improvement and the students to excel in this international language which is a window to the world, we can make a difference to their language ability.

That may be considered as educational patriotism whereby we play our part to contribute to the Education Ministry’s target of providing quality education to our country’s young ones.

The writer is an Assoc. Prof in the Department of English, International Islamic University Malaysia.

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